Arizona’s Swapmeat combine good, old-fashioned, leather-tough, rock ‘n’ roll and with dusty cowpunk for an authentic taste of that greasy underside of overworked and underpaid Americana.
Their debut (and only) album Being A Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bill$ dropped late last year, a collection of songs about living cheap, dirty ,and on the margins, kept afloat by a swimming pool’s worth of whisky while coasting a surfboard-shaped cloud of reefer smoke. Swapmeat throws a hell of a hootenanny, with just enough raw life experience thrown in to make you pause and think between swigs of Coors.
Check out the stream of Being A Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bill$ below via Bandcamp, and keep scrolling for an exclusive interview with Swapmeat’s vocalist Ben Barnes.
The following interview was conducted over email on January 7. Its transcript has been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.
How have you been staying sane through the pandemic?
Well it certainly has not been easy. All of us have still been working on music projects throughout this whole time, and because of that, we were able to finish our new album, otherwise it may not have ever been completed.
Most of us in the band lost our jobs back in March, so it has not been an easy time at all. I work out every day and go hiking in the Superstition Mountains as much as I can, and smoke a shitload of weed, which really helps the most.
Can you give us a brief history of the band?
Back in 2012, Johnny and I were playing in Casket Life, which had pretty much run its course, and Moss was playing in Unemployment Party. Moss and I had talked about starting a project, and he wasted no time in recruiting Jason Wiedman to play drums along with a couple other guys to round out the initial lineup.
We released an EP, Horseshoes & Handgrenades, as well as a split seven-inch with our friends The Venomous Pinks entitled Pink Meat. Two of the guys bailed and went back to doing other projects, Johnny took over guitar, and Matt from Creepsville took over bass duties. I should also note that during this entire time, Johnny and myself were also part of the band known as Broloaf.
What was the reason for your hiatus?
The last show we played was back in 2017, and things didn’t feel quite right. It wasn’t planned our anything, but at the time, Johnny, Moss, and myself started a thrash metal band called Eye Rake which also had Jason Creature on drums from Take Over and Destroy. So at that point, we really started putting our energy into the other band and gave Swapmeat an unscheduled break.
How did your album Being a Weirdo Don’t Pay the Bill$ come about?
There was an entire album’s worth of new songs that we had written, so in late 2016/early 2017, we started laying down all the initial tracks for a new record. Once things had kind of fallen off the rails, and we started working on the Eye Rake record, those tracks just sat.
If it weren’t for being quarantined in the early stages of the pandemic, they never would have seen the light of day. We dusted them off and took them to Joe Asselin at Switchblade Sound in Tempe, AZ, and we finished all the tracks, and Joe really knocked it out of the park because it turned out well beyond our expectations.
You’ve got a few songs about working on a farm on this album that feel like genuine labor anthems. Do you have direct experience working on a farm? And if so, what did you do there?
There was the time Moss spent working on an alpaca farm back in the late ’80s, or in ’94 when Johnny was shipped off to the Juvenile Delinquent Prison Farm for the Idle Hands are the Devil’s Friends program just outside of Saint George, UT but other than that, I’d have to say no. The song you are referring to is about growing marijuana, and yes, that is what I did there, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a farm. More like an operation.
What are you doing for a living right now?
Personally, my situation is completely fucked. I was working in the event production industry, and once the ‘Rona hit, everything was put on hold. On top of that, I also work as a ring announcer for Party Hard Wrestling as well as Championship Wrestling from Arizona, and all that ceased on March 13.
Currently working on a multitude of delivery platforms to make it work, but most of the people I know in AZ lost their gigs. Moss still has his job (He’s soooo Essential!) Johnny was doing some heavy-duty shit, but that’s on hold because of the pandemic, and Jason Wiedman is having a baby!!
What are you drinking?
Shots of Jim Beam, cans of Coors Light.
Why doesn’t being a weirdo pay the bills (asking for a friend)?
Being a weirdo costs money, man!!
What is the punk scene like in Arizona?
All the different underground scenes in Arizona are amazing.
Not just punk, but we have all kinds of killer bands here … The Venomous Pinks and Robot Repair for punk, Old Fashion Assassin and Hovenweep for stoner riffs, Saintbreaker and Sorrower for grind, Sanitation Squad & Scattered Guts for thrash … I could go on and on, so many greats bands out here. This ain’t L.A., This is ARIZONA.
Where were the best places to play pre-pandemic?
Anywhere and everywhere … shitty Bars, DIY venues, warehouse spots, fancy bars with extra drink tickets … with so many venues closed, after this, we gonna go on a house show tour!
Why do you think the punk and country scenes are so segregated?
Eh, I wouldn’t really say that. You’d be surprised that a lot of punks growing up in the Middle Americas hate country music, until they age out of the angst and learn to appreciate it. I wasn’t a big fan of anything even close to the country until I heard a JOHNNY PAYCHECK song in my early 20s, and it all clicked. S
ome of the most talented musicians I have ever seen live come from country music, and with punk, that is not necessarily the case. I am talking about outlaw country. I’m not so sure I could tell you anything about popular country music in today’s landscape.
Any ideas on how we can bridge the divide?
Smoke weed, drink whiskey, and crank up a Waylon Jennings record.
Who are the “Holy Trinity” of punk-country in your opinion?
Speaking of swapmeets, where do you go for the best deals near you?
I purchase my fuel at QuikTrip, my food at Filiberto’s, and my music at The Ghost of Eastside Records.
Are there any plans to revive Swapmeat in the future, possibly post-pandemic?
Our friends Kyle (OFA) & Chris (DoomTomb Podcast) put on Planet Mammoth over a weekend usually in February, and once things are rolling again, we will start playing out again with Planet Mammoth being our first show back.